Thailand: make enforced disappearance a crime under national law

The Thai government must urgently pass a draft law to address the heinous crimes of torture and enforced disappearances, after amending it to comply with Thailand’s international law obligations, Amnesty International said today (30 August), the International Day of the Disappeared. 

“By its inaction, Thailand has allowed a shocking blind spot to prevail in its legislation. The result is that Thai citizens may be tortured, or subject to enforced disappearance, while authorities are not fully equipped to pursue those responsible,” said Piyanut Kotsan, Director of Amnesty International Thailand

“Each year, this symbolic day marks families’ daily wait for the truth of the fate of their disappeared relatives. The Thai authorities must bring them hope for justice, stop their delaying tactics and fulfil their promise to make enforced disappearance a crime under national law.” 

The Thai authorities signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in January 2012. However, progress on ratifying the Convention and passing domestic legislation have been repeatedly stalled. 

In 2017, lawmakers from the military-led National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) returned a draft of the law to cabinet for more consultations, and the government told the UN Human Rights Committee that year that it was delaying passing the bill to review it and hold public consultations. The Cabinet returned a new draft to parliament on 18 July 2019. 

The unresolved enforced disappearances of several high-profile activists underscore the need for action. Somchai Neelapaiijit, a lawyer acting for victims of torture, was abducted in Bangkok in 2004, and has not been seen since. 

Another activist, Pholachi ‘Billy’ Rakchongcharoen, was last seen on 17 April 2014 in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials in Thailand’s Phetchaburi province. At the time Billy had been working with ethnic Karen villagers and activists on legal complaints against the National Park officials for purportedly burning and destroying their houses, farms, and other properties.

The cases of 86 people – including trade unionists and other human rights defenders, protesters and security suspects believed to have been subjected to unresolved enforced disappearances in Thailand – have been reported to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. The real number is believed to be higher. Security laws and recently introduced decrees allowing for authorities to hold people without charge or trial in unofficial places of detention, often without contact to the outside world in practice, clearly increase the risk of people disappearing after being detained. 

Official investigations have not dispelled suspicions of state involvement in the disappearance, abduction and death of some eight Thai activists who went into exile in Laos, during the last year and in 2016 and 2017. 

“Not only these tragic disappearances, but also the government’s continuing failure to establish the truth and bring justice to their families, are growing stains on Thailand’s reputation. Scores of disappearance cases such as this remain unresolved, and cast doubt on the leadership’s commitment to keeping its own citizens safe,” said Piyanut Kotsan. 

Thailand is bound by international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT) – both of which it has acceded to – to investigate, prosecute, punish and provide remedies and reparation for the crimes of torture, other acts of ill-treatment and enforced disappearance.